Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Rapist and the Government

The ceasefire between the Israelis and the Palestinians seems to be holding. Only one Qassam rocket fell on Monday. Israel TV showed footage of a hole in the ceiling of an apartment, and a family packing to leave Sderot, the Southern Negev town that has been the target of most of the Qassam rockets. The couple packing up their belongings were both born and raised in Sderot, and had been raising their own children there. “It’s just too dangerous,” said both husband and wife. “We can’t raise our children here.”

Eli Moyal, the mayor of Sderot, claims that the press is making more of a few people leaving Sderot than is necessary. "People have always come and people have always left. The numbers aren't any different now than usual," he said.

None of the residents interviewed thought there was any hope for a long-term cease-fire. All thought it was only a matter of time until the rockets began falling again.

Some thought that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s remarks at the grave of Israeli’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion were out of place. Olmert alluded to a comprehensive peace plan that would include a Palestinian State side by side with the Jewish State of Israel. Many interviewed thought that the time was ripe for Army action in Gaza and not talk of peace.

The US lauded Olmert’s remarks. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due in the Middle East on Thursday with US Preident Bush. Some speculate Rice will come to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Olmert in order to set up a summit between PA Chairman Mohammed Abbas, Israel’s PM Olmert, and U.S. President Bush in Washington.

Secretary Rice and U.S. President George Bush are coming to the region to take part in a conference on democracy and development called by King Abdullah, and to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Because of the diplomatic window of opportunity created by Olmert’s statement, Sec. Rice will now include the Israel-Palestinian issue on her agenda while she is in the region.

Pundits believe this meeting in Jordan is important to Bush to redeem himself after the battering he took in local US elections. A break-through in the Middle East between the Palestinians and the Israelis would improve the Republican image, and Bush’s reputation.

Other analysts believe that this is like putting the skin of a pear on an apple and calling it an apple. Hamas is still the dominant power in Gaza and amid the Palestinian territories. PA Prime Minister and Hamas leader Haniyeh has agreed to the fiction that Hamas is no longer in power, in order to get funding from the EU and the USA and others who are not turning over any money until Hamas recognizes Israel’s right to exist. By allowing Abu Mazen (Mohammed Abbas) to appear to run the PA, Hamas doesn’t have to recognize Israel, and the money can begin flowing in to Hamas coffers.

Israelis are skeptical that the peace initiative will reap any positive results. Many see it as a move by Olmert to gain favor with the White House. Pundits believe that this is the wrong season for peace talks; since the chilly winds of war not the refreshing smell of peace is in the air.

In Lebanon Hezbollah has reportedly replenished the supply of rockets used against Israel over the summer. Other reports state that Hezbollah has been training Iraqi Shiite insurgents who then return to Baghdad to wreck havoc on the nascent Iraqi government. Recent reports state that approximately 2,000 insurgents have been trained in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon.

Hezbollah has also begun a campaign to overthrow the moderate Lebanese government and replace it with a fundamentalist Shiite government. Hezbollah leader Nasrallah reportedly postponed the planned street demonstrations against the government after the assassination of the young Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, scion of the Maronite Christians in Lebanon. Syria is accused by the Gamayel family of being behind the assassination of the 34-year old Lebanese parliamentarian, who was vehemently anti-Syrian.

Given the climate of war analysts think that Prime Minister Olmert’s talk of peace is a sham. Noam Shalit, father of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, said, “it is time for actions not words.”

Israel’s Chief of Staff Dan Halutz has said Prime Minister Olmert didn’t consult him on the peace initiative. Halutz is already embattled, under fire for the failures of the War in Lebanon II. Military analysts say that few in the army or the government have stood up and taken responsibility for the failures of the war.

Another failure of Israel’s became clear three days ago when Benny Sela, a convicted serial rapist, escaped from police custody while being transported to court. The entire incident was either an extremely fortuitous series of foul-ups for Sela by the Prison Services and the Israeli Police, or a well-planned escape.

The Police once sought Sela for over two years before a previous arrest. Until his escape Sela was serving a 35-year sentence. Reportedly Sela was taken to a labor court to hear a suit he’d filed against the prison services. Two problems arose. One, there was no labor court on the day he was transported, which the prison services should have known, and two, he was not shackled. According to one report he wasn’t even handcuffed.

Sela excused himself from the two policemen escorting him from the parking courtyard into the court, saying he’d left something in the van. He then disappeared, either over the wall, or in some other fashion. A prison uniform was found in some bushes a short distance away. Eyewitnesses said they saw Sela riding away on a bicycle. It is still unclear if he was simply lucky, or part of a well-executed plan. The media reported that the prison services had received a warning a month earlier that Sela was planning an escape.

What is significant about Sela’s escape is that it found yet another of Israel’s vaunted security services lacking. Reportedly, the two policemen who were responsible for guarding Sela are being held responsible for the escape, although others have called on the highest ranks of the police and prison services to assume responsibility.

Some rumors have also reached the press that both the police and prison services are susceptible to corruption, and that Sela may have bribed the right people to provide a forged court appearance certificate, as well as bribing others to leave him unencumbered by handcuffs and leg restraints.

“Another example of how the country is being run these days,” said a veteran Israeli.

Meanwhile, Sela is lose, Israeli soldiers Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev are still being held prisoner, and the prospect of peace, no matter what Israel’s PM Olmert says, or the US wants, is as far away as ever. ,